Region still fights racist reputation

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At first, I didn’t get it.

A friend in Charlotte sent me a text that said: “Idaho weeps for Roseanne.”

Next, I received an email from another pal who simply wrote: “Coming soon to Coeur d’Alene — Roseanne Live!”

Finally, the light came on.

People I know from around the country — the ones who have never been to North Idaho — STILL believe after all this time that we’re living in a hotbed of racism.

They assumed that folks here would be universally sympathetic to Roseanne Barr, whose popular sitcom was canceled by ABC following the worst in a series of vitriolic, race-hate and conspiracy theory tweets.

Barr finally crossed the “You’re fired!” line when she tweeted a description of former Obama administration aide Valerie Jarrett as a child of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes.

ABC almost instantly pulled the plug.

“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” said Channing Dungey, president of ABC Entertainment Group.

There was such a consensus that Barr’s statements had become downright disgusting that even conservative icons Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity agreed with ABC’s decision.

And yet ...

A few of my friends living elsewhere believed that North Idaho would be “Roseanne Country,” where everyone tweets racial insults on their lunch hour.

“That’s just plain wrong,” said Don Bradway, a mega-conservative and unashamed spokesman for the American Redoubt. “Look, this is a fact: I don’t know a single racist here.

“If somebody speaks or thinks that way, I would have nothing to do with them and neither would the people I know.”

As for Roseanne ...

“She’s just an unpleasant human being,” Bradway said. “I could use some worse adjectives, but I’ll leave it there.”

One incredible irony in attempting to tie conservative Americans to Barr’s beliefs is that this is the same woman who drew the condemnation of President George H.W. Bush after she shrieked the National Anthem prior to a San Diego Padres game in 1990 — then spit and grabbed her crotch.

BUT WHAT about this vague notion that North Idaho remains a haven for white people who want nothing to do with people who don’t look like themselves?

Sandpoint resident Scott Rhodes recently has popped up like a minor league version of the Aryan Nations’ Richard Butler, distributing racist literature at schools and claiming that he’s paid for 350,000 robo-calls to households in California — inviting white people to North Idaho with the slogan “...very white is very right.”

“We absolutely have to make the point that racism hasn’t completely disappeared,” said Tony Stewart, co-founder of both the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations (for the fight against Butler’s neo-Nazis) and the Human Rights Education Institute.

“We have to stay vigilant,” Stewart said, “because I suppose it’s just in some people’s nature to express hateful things. It comes from their insecurities.

“There’s no question, though, that the work this community — this whole region — has done over the past four decades has helped change the entire culture.”

Stewart is pleased but wary.

“Just the fact that someone across the country believes this is a place for hate, well, it tells you how hard it is to change perception as well as providing education about human dignity,” he said.

“I’ve said this so often: We’ve seen hate up close, and it’s not welcome here.”

• • •

Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press. A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com.

Twitter: @BrandNewDayCDA

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